A Co Tyrone man who was due to contest cruelty charges has changed his plea at the last minute, amid claims the beating and ear-pulling of children is acceptable.
In the course of the hearing it emerged the children's mother claimed their behaviour improved after her partner, the defendant, dealt out physical punishments, which the judge said was down to "terror".
The defendant is in his 40s and from the Cookstown area but cannot be named to protect the identity of the victims.
Having previously denied the offences, he changed his plea on the third time the matter was to be heard as a contest at Dungannon Magistrates Court.
He admitted wilfully assaulting two children in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health, on dates between January 2013 and December 2017.
The young witnesses were in attendance in preparation to give evidence, accompanied by specialist officers and other witnesses, including two siblings. It was the third time they had attended as the case has been repeatedly listed for hearing, then adjourned at the 11th hour.
Yesterday, the defendant, who is currently serving a custodial sentence for unrelated offending, appeared in the dock and pleaded guilty to the charges.
The court heard police and Social Services were alerted to reports of child cruelty, at the hands of the defendant.
He was arrested and accepted slapping the children, including about the head, as well as pulling them by their ears.
This, he maintained, was acceptable as a method of dealing with misbehaving children.
Bizarrely the children's mother contended the children had been cheeky and missed school, but after the defendant meted out physical punishments, their behaviour and school attendance improved.
District Judge Michael Ranaghan remarked: "That's because they were terrified of him."
He had previously warned he was considering sending the case to crown court or to ask the Public Prosecution Service to conduct a review. However, that did not materialise.
Handing down sentences of three months imprisonment in respect of each child to be served consecutively, Judge Ranaghan said the only thing preventing longer terms was the defendant's guilty pleas, sparing the young victims having to give evidence.
With a total of six months imposed, the judge added this to the defendant's existing prison term, and is not to run concurrently. The case had been listed for hearing in October and then again in December. In all instances including yesterday, the young victims and two other siblings were in attendance to give evidence, with the defendant only changing his plea at the very last point. The first hearing was adjourned when facilities to hear evidence from children were unavailable.
On relisting for December, the matter was halted after a defence barrister advised he could no longer act for the defendant.
Having taken a short time to consult, the barrister told the court: "I'm afraid a difficulty has arisen. It is very regrettable but I am no longer able to continue in this case."
Addressing the defendant in the dock, Judge Ranaghan said: "This is very, very unfortunate as young children are involved.
"You face very serious charges which may be more comfortable in the crown court. If this occurs again, I will force this case on one way or another."
After telling the accused to speak with his solicitor to retain another barrister, Judge Ranaghan warned: "You need to understand how serious this is."
From the dock the defendant replied: "You need to understand, this is my family."